The 238 sq mile Caribbean island of St. Lucia, has produced a number of prominent figures, among these thus far, two Nobel Laureates: Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott. Sir Arthur Lewis, after whom this College has been named, was bestowed with the honour of Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1979 and Derek Walcott, a pillar of the literary arts achieved the title of Nobel Laureate in Literature in 1992.
I never meant to be an economist. My father wanted me to be a lawyer, but he died when I was seven; he had no vote at the appropriate time. I did not want to be a doctor either, nor a teacher. That put me in a hole, since law, medicine, preaching, and teaching were the only professions open to blacks in my day. I wanted to be an engineer, but neither the colonial government nor the sugar plantations would hire a black engineer.
William Arthur Lewis, the fourth son of George Ferdinand and Ida Louisa Lewis, was born in Castries, St. Lucia, on January 23, 1915. The young Arthur during his early years lived on Victoria Street in Castries. Arthur attended the Castries Anglican Primary School and won a scholarship to St. Mary's College before he was 10 years old. From St. Mary's College he won the St. Lucia Government Island scholarship in 1932, tenable at a British University, and left the island in 1933 at the tender age of 18 to pursue a Bachelors degree at the University of London. Sir Arthur rose to the top of his field and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979. For all his triumphs in the field of Economics, it is surprising to many that he actually stumbled on the subject. In an autobiographical account, Sir Arthur wrote:
Be that as it may, Arthur developed a liking for the subject and graduated in 1937 with First Class honours and was subsequently awarded a scholarship from the London School of Economics to pursue a Ph.D. in Industrial Economics. Maybe much of his understanding of Economics might have been transmitted to him unknowingly through his mother. In the autobiographical account referred to above, Sir Arthur recorded that:
My mother was unsurpassed in the ways of stretching income, a widow with young children, very little money, an immigrant (both father and mother were immigrants from Antigua), the highest integrity, unshakable courage, unlimited faith in God.
Indeed, with such a mother, Arthur was quite perplexed on hearing other boys talking about superiority of men over women. Arthur successfully completed his Ph.D. in 1940 and taught at the London School of Economics until 1947, the same year that he married Gladys Jacobs, a lively and dynamic young lady, originally from the island of Grenada. From 1948 to 1956, he was made a full professor at the University of Manchester and served as the Stanley Jevons Professor of Political Economy. During this time, he revisited and worked in several African and Asian countries. He also served as a Consultant to the Caribbean Commission, the Colonial Advisory Economics Council, the United Nations group of experts to advise on under-developed countries, and to the Government of Nigeria among others.
From 1960 to 1982, Professor Lewis served at Princeton University as Professor of Public and International Affairs, and later as James Madison Professor of Political Economics. He was knighted in 1963. Sir Arthur also served as Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Chancellor of the University of Guyana, and Chairman of the Caribbean Development Bank. After he retired from Princeton in 1983, he was made President of the American Economics Association.
Sir Arthur ranks among the most prolific writers in Economics. He published 81 professional articles over the period 1941 to 1988, and wrote ten books. His 81 essays and collected papers are put together in a threevolume compilation edited by Dr. Patrick Emmanuel of the University of the West Indies, Institute of Social and Economic Research, and published in 1995. The three volumes are all prefaced by an autobiographical account of the life of Sir Arthur. All students of the College should at least be familiar with the 17-page autobiographical account and all students would do well to read some of his celebrated articles. You need not fear; Sir Arthur's writing is characterized by its wit, lucidity, elegant simplicity, and economy of prose.
The Cabinet of Ministers of St. Lucia took the decision in 1985 to name the newly integrated Morne Educational Complex, The Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, in commemoration of this St. Lucian giant. In doing this, we commemorate the triumphs and accomplishments of a man who began as most of us, in humble circumstances, but who by dint of hard work and perseverance rose to be a world famous economist, a sort of larger than life intellectual figure, and St. Lucia's first Nobel Laureate. Sir Arthur was, however, disarmingly simple and pleasant. In the words of William Bowen, President of Princeton University.
His accomplishments were monumental and they will remain visible and significant long after all of us are gone.
Sir Arthur died on Saturday June 15, 1991, and was buried on the grounds of this College. We are privileged and fortunate indeed to have the honour of preserving the mortal remains of such a scholar. We also have the commensurate responsibility of living up to the high ideals of Sir Arthur. Do spend a minute, some time during your tenure here, to visit the gravesite and communicate spiritually with Sir Arthur. It is a privilege that you must not deny yourself.